Whether it’s a tiny leak when you cough, a bladder that never seems to be empty, or regular get-to-the-bathroom-right-now emergencies, urinary incontinence is actually more common than you might think.
Although it’s believed to affect up to 37% of Australian adult women, most women aren’t comfortable openly talking about urinary incontinence. Embarrassment often prevents women from seeking help for their condition.
Instead, they avoid joining in on their favourite sport, say ‘no’ to dinners with friends, and in worse cases even avoid leaving the house for fear their bladders will betray them.
Ladies, there is no need to let your bladder compromise your quality of life! Treatment for urinary incontinence can be very effective, and is often relatively simple.
Let’s explore what causes urinary incontinence, and how to combat the problem… so you can start enjoying life instead of worrying about wee!
What is Urinary Incontinence?
Urinary incontinence is defined as an involuntary leak of urine from the bladder. Whether it’s a few drops to an entire bladder full, it’s a problem that can affect people of all ages.
Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause increase the likelihood of incontinence problems. However this isn’t an absolute rule. In fact, 12% of Australian women under 30 who have never had children are affected by incontinence.
What Causes Urinary Incontinence?
The kidneys constantly filter our blood, and produce urine as a waste product of this process. Usually this urine leaves our bodies through our urethra.
The urethra sphincter muscles works with the bladder neck and pelvic floor muscles to act as a valve that keeps the urethra shut. But when these bladder neck muscles are weakened, the urethra doesn’t close as tightly and urine can leak out.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
There are 4 main types of urinary incontinence. They may sometimes occur in combination with each other.
Stress Incontinence – Losing a few drops when running, coughing, sneezing, or exerting pressure on the bladder when lifting or pushing objects. This is the most common type of urinary incontinence in women, and is often caused by physical changes from pregnancy, childbirth or menopause.
Urge Incontinence – A desire to urinate so sudden and urgent that urine cannot be held in time to reach the toilet. It’s usually caused by the bladder muscle contracting involuntarily, and often happens when least expected. A wide range of problems can lead to this condition, including poor bladder habits, nerve damage, neurological conditions, infections, menopause, and more.
Functional Incontinence – Leaking urine because a person is unable to get to or use the toilet due to a physical disability, an intellectual problem such as dementia, or a barrier in their environment (such as a toilet not suitable for wheelchair access).
Overflow Incontinence – When urine leaks because the bladder hasn’t completely emptied. The bladder fills up again and become swollen, putting pressure on the urethral sphincter muscles and causing them to open. It can be caused by conditions such as multiple sclerosis, damage to the nerve supply to the bladder, or an obstruction in the bladder itself.
Symptoms of Urinary Incontinence
Women with bladder control issues may experience:
- Leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, or exercising
- Passing urine on the way to the toilet
- Experiencing an intense and sudden need to urinate
- Wetting the bed during sleep
- Feeling like their bladder isn’t completely empty
- Getting up twice or more at night to pass urine, or going more than 7 times during the day
Urinary Incontinence Treatment Options
Many women are reluctant to seek medical advice for their problem. Instead, they rely on incontinence pads to manage their condition. It doesn’t have to be this way – there are actually a range of effective treatments available.
Common treatments include:
- Pelvic floor exercises to tighten the muscles that help control your bladder.
- Adequate fluid intake of two litres of water a day (this helps to keep your urine diluted).
- A new toilet habits schedule to retrain your bladder.
- Only going when you have the urge to go (instead of going ‘just in case’).
Not every form of incontinence needs surgery. MonaLisa Touch laser can be an effective treatment for incontinence. Stress incontinence can be treated surgically with a midurethral sling. It is recommended to see a gynaecologist to treat an urgent bladder.
What Is A Mid-Urethral Sling?
A mid-urethral sling is a thin ribbon of material that is placed under the middle section of the urethra. The sling then acts as an extra support when the urethra is put under pressure from acts such as exercise, coughing, and lifting. The slings are made of medical mesh (polypropylene) similar to the material used in hernia repairs.
The procedure itself can be performed under general anaesthetic with an overnight stay in hospital. After the procedure, women are restricted from activity for at least 4-6 weeks.
Mid-urethral slings have been found to cure or significantly improve stress urinary incontinence in 80 to 90% of women.
What To Do Next
Even though urinary incontinence is common, it’s not a normal part of life. If your body is leaking urine, it’s a sign that there’s a problem that should be addressed.
Northside Gynaecology is an all-women practice offering advice, treatment and support for a wide range of gynaecological issues including incontinence. Book an appointment at one of our convenient Brisbane locations by calling us on 07 3088 9005.